"Dubai, the Gulf's Hong Kong "Wannabe"" Dubai by DesertRat
Dubai Travel Guide: 2,812 reviews and 8,425 photos
Dubai has become the unquestioned banking and commercial center not only of the United Arab Emirates, of which federation it is an integral part, but of the entire Middle East; it is also fast becoming THE tourist center of region as well. The local government -- which really means the ruling Al-Maktoum family -- is determined to make Dubai into as important a leisure center as it is a trading center. In my view, they are succeeding.
Dubai's origins go back millenia, but it was of little importance until pearling became an important industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. Even then, it was still only a tiny settlement of a few thousand people nestled in the curve of an estuary of the Gulf, euphemistically called "The Creek."
But real prosperity didn't come to the area until the 1950s when oil was discovered. The 60s were spent buiding infrastructure, which previously was almost totally absent. Prior to the oil, most people lived in crude dwellings made from mangroves and palm fronds. The only people who had substantial housing made from mud brick were the ruling family and the top pearl merchants. By the 60s, the old mangrove structures disappeared completely, however, and by the 70s a building boom had begun.
The most spectacular development has taken place over the past 10 to 15 years, however. The result is that Dubai has become, in many ways, "Hong Kong West."
It's a sad but undeniable fact that Dubai in its present form owes its existence to the armies of expats from the Levant, Egypt, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangla Desh, and the Philippines who have battled heat, humidity, lousy working hours, and crowded, dormitory-like housing to build this glittering showplace of post-industrial consumerism. It certainly wasn't the now spoiled and cosseted Emiratis. They wanted modernity and they bought it. They didn't design it. And they certainly didn't construct it with the sweat of their brows. But they are certainly reaping the benefits of it. To be fair, there are so few true Emiratis that they couldn't have done it all themselves even if they had had the gumption, the drive, and the smarts to attempt the feat.
Indians and Pakistanis especially have been shamelessly exploited. Many of them have gone into debt to raise the cash to pay an employment agency to get them the job in the first place. Then when they arrive, they often find that they're not paid as much as had been promised, that they have to pay at least a portion of their rent, maybe some of their food, and all of their health care. (This is new; the UAE government cut medical benefits for expats drastically not so long ago.) The result is that these poor guys often end up working two or three years just to pay off their debts before they can dream of saving anything. And since labor unions are illegal and strikes are forbidden, they can't do a blasted thing about it. It's worth knowing this when you're greeted in a restaurant or hotel by a smiling Indian waiter or desk clerk.
The reality is that in Dubai just as in the rest of the Gulf the majority of residents are foreigners. Most, as I have already suggested, come from the Subcontinent, but there are people from just about everywhere. Walking around, you'll see mostly Indians or Pakistanis. Indeed, many side streets could well be in Mumbai or Delhi. But you'll find lots of Caucasians as well, though they are as likely to be Russian or Romanian as American or British.
It should be noted, however, that Russians, nationals of the so-called CIS and of the former Eastern Europe mostly seem to be doing relatively menial service jobs, while those from the wealthy West are usually in highly-paid consultatative, managerial, or academic positions. There is definitely a pecking order here with Gulf Arabs on top followed by Westerners, then educated Subcontinentals and ex-socialist Europeans with all the others down at the bottom.
- Pros:Cosmopolitan atmosphere; cheap & plentiful cabs; great hotels & restaurants; lots to do; amazing shopping
- Cons:Hotter 'n' a pistol from late March to late November
- In a nutshell:If you want great shopping, great hotels, great things to do, and fascinating street-life, and a cosmopolitan atmosphere, Dubai's a great choice!
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